“If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”
Romans 11:17-21 NIVUK
Gardeners are good at grafting. To someone who knows little about gardening, such a technique is well beyond my experience, but there are many skilled people who are good at it. What is grafting? Here is a quote from the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society, “The purpose of grafting is to combine one plant’s qualities of flowering or fruiting with the roots of another that offers vigour and resilience”. I have a rose bush in my front garden, purchased some years ago, that consists of just such a hybrid combination of good flowers and a wild rose root and stem. Paul informed his readers that they have been grafted into the olive tree, replacing other branches that had been broken off. Of course, as we considered recently, Jesus is the Source of the “nourishing sap” that supports us and sustains us in our Christian lives. And we are “wild olive shoots” that have been grafted in. The implication is that we Christians are not natural parts of the olive tree, but have been given the opportunity to be joined to the tree through our faith in God.
Paul goes on to make a good point. It would perhaps be easy to feel in some way superior to God’s own people, the Jews, because we have found His grace and love and they haven’t. So we observe how their removal from the Source now makes room for a people saved through His grace. And Paul reminds his readers that those removed, the natural branches, “were broken off because of unbelief”. There is, however, a warning coming from Paul’s pen – be soberly aware that we too can be broken off from the vine, the olive tree, if we lapse into apostasy and unbelief.
Back to John 15. Jesus Himself taught about the importance of remaining connected to the Vine, we read in John 15:5-6 what Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” Indeed a sober warning for us pilgrims. So how do we remain in the vine? How do we avoid being burned in the fire? It’s all about our relationship with God. As Jesus said to the Jewish expert in the Law, the greatest commandment to be followed is, “ … you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Our connection to the Source depends on our choices. If we choose to love God in all we do, aligning our lives and behaving how an olive branch should, then we will enjoy the life-giving and nourishing sap that flows unhindered from the throne of God. But if we choose to behave in a way that connects us to a different root system, then we cut ourselves off from God, and our spirits will wither and die.
We pilgrims know what we must do. And it is not an impossible request that God makes of us. He is our loving Heavenly Father. He has the words of eternal life. Only He can welcome us into our future home in Heaven. And so we worship and praise Him, secure in the knowledge that He loves us and cares for us. He accepts all repentant sinners who come to Him, and He willingly grafts us into His Tree. Through His grace and mercy, there is unlimited room for new branches, and the grafting process is accompanied by much joy. How grateful we are!
Dear Lord Jesus. You are the Vine and we are the branches. Thank You for the life-giving Spirit that flows so freely towards us. Amen.